PTSD May Plague Many COVID-19 Survivors

About 46% of patients developed symptoms of anxiety, 40% reported depression and 22% had problems related to PTSD within a year of their discharge from the ICU, according to the findings published in the journal Critical Care. Nearly one in five patients appeared to suffer from all three psychological conditions.

The British study also found that former ICU patients with depression were 47% more likely to die within two years of leaving the hospital, compared to those without.

There’s also some concern that the COVID-19 coronavirus itself might cause neurological or psychiatric problems, said Dr. Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters.

         Neurological symptoms

“There certainly are many infectious illnesses that have associated with them the development of temporary or permanent neuropsychiatric symptoms that can range from things like mood changes to confusion or cognitive impairment, to pain or fatigue,” Morganstein said.

One example is Lyme disease, a tick-borne bacterial infection that can cause mental fogginess, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and mood swings, according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.

“Because this [COVID-19] is a novel infectious disease, it will be important for us to be open to investigate and to better identify the degree to which people who recover from this infectious disease may also experience some of those symptoms,” Morganstein said.

Further, COVID-19’s high degree of infectiousness hampers the sort of close emotional support that can help people avoid mood disorders after traumas, Morganstein added.

Family members are barred from visiting seriously ill COVID-19 patients, lest they contract the virus themselves. Even during recovery, they are asked to isolate themselves from others.

“We know that social connectedness is one of the most protective things people can have against the effects of trauma,” Morganstein said.

         Nurses, doctors help ease the trauma

Some hospitals are trying to help patients stay connected with family through technology, using apps like Skype and FaceTime, “so people can see and hear their loved ones — not necessarily in the way that is most ideal, but that for many people can diminish their sense of feeling isolated,” Morganstein said.

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